Solar energy and A day in the Life….

A couple of weeks ago, I ( Leonie) was the leader for group learning. We go every second Friday. This term the theme is Inventions and I had the topic Energy/Electricity.

One of the activities I did with the seniors was for each of us to make our own pizza box solar ovens.

And on the weekend we finally got to use it! It was a bright, sunny day ( well, nearly all our days have been bright and sunny this drought-filled winter). We cooked s’mores – it was cool to see how the ovens worked using the energy from the sun and cool to have a snack ready for us after our walk.

We’ve made solar ovens before and I know the older boys remember baking scones and cookies in the solar oven ( placed high, out of reach of the cat and the toddlers).

I guess we have had a “science” week – we also ended up looking at the internet for the physics of skateboarding. A friend asked about this in an email and that sent us off on a search. So, there we were on Monday, watching Anny balance before doing a roll off, and talking about the moment of inertia and momentum.

Talking of Monday – someone asked about our days. What do we do?

Maybe I *can talk about Monday.

We had a slow morning – getting up, exercise for me, tidying up, breakfast. Finally, T asked about our day’s plans. A phone call from a friend for J and A to come over in the afternoon and practice music helped to get us going.

We decided to go to K-Mart for T and A before our usual Monday visit to a local skateboard park ( while everyone else is in the school opposite). But first, I had some email stuff to do and J wanted to work on his art and t-shirt designs. A did a lesson in a Saxon Maths book, as he likes Maths and is an orderly textbook sort of person.

This made T feel a bit like he should be doing Maths, so he grabbed the Maths In Our World book by Addison Wesley and did a page on problem solving. “I’ve forgotten how to set this out” he said of one problem. I showed him and he was fine. But we also segued into a discussion on salaries ( the problem was based on salary rates).

Since the topic for group learning is Inventions, I had found, at the start of August, a book of blackline masters on Australian Inventions. These I had photocopied and placed in a file in the computer area. Strewing! Anny found the file and got sidetracked into reading the sheets about Australian inventors and inventions. We did a quick net search on a periscope rifle and an owen gun and he filled out a worksheet on these.

It is amusing and enlightening to see children choose to do a worksheet sometimes – because Anny rarely does these, they are fun and like a puzzle for him.

Here is the info he found –

I looked at the clock – time to go! We raced out the door, making sure we had skateboard stuff and the amp and guitars.

In the car we listened to Neil Young ( A’s choice) and discussed music, music history, Johnny Rotten.

After our shopping ( T and Anny bought a GameCube game of Spiderman, with their money from newspaper delivery), we counted our change and decided how to split the remaining money for lunch each at the food hall. We each had a limit to spend and wandered around, trying to make a tasty but healthy ( well, I wanted healthy) lunch.

A local skate park was our next stop. T overcame his fear and just did a roll off – one of many. I am still working on my fears and I am a terrible skater!

When we dropped J and T and their music at a friend’s house, the friend’s mum asked us in for a play and a cup of tea. We mums got chatting – I didn’t know that this new friend had been a zookeeper. How interesting. T and Anny played with the girls – hand ball.

Back home, I explained to T and Anny that I needed to work on my book project. I am writing a teaching guide called Teaching With Movies for Ready Ed publishers. G and I have written Maths activity books for these publishers before and although you don’t make a lot of money, the little bits that roll in as royalties are always helpful.

Knowing I would be busy, we set up some ideas for T and Anny – playing the new game on the GameCube, jumping on the trampoline, drawing with the new cartooning book, baking. They eventually undertook all these activities – T made two cakes. One for dessert and one for skateboarding for the next day.

I set myself a deadline of 5.00 pm – which rolled around all too soon, as I spent some of my working time on email and some on watching T do a great Spiderman leap and on helping with the baking. Five o’clock was my chore time – I mopped, hung out laundry, tidied the kitchen, started dinner. T and Anny read and then got ready to tape Dr Who.

G, J and A eventually arrived home and we prayed and had dinner. The low fat fried rice was not popular with T and Anny so they made themselves sandwiches.

I left the dinner mess to G, T and Anny and went to Tai Class with J and A. J and A are really good at Tai Chi – A is into all martial arts – and I am finally learning to relax and go with the slow pace.

When we arrived home, G was on the computer – G and the boys are having a competition to get the highest score in the game Mafia. I am sure there must be something educational there! I made tea, we said the Rosary and I was going to read the next chapter from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. But – instead we watched the movie Stargate and discussed Ancient Civilizations and the genre of science fiction.

Reading for all of us before eventual bed.

So, there is a day in our life. Lots of learning and living together.



Hi all, I’m Jonathon Westenberg, 16 years old, this is my first blog entry. That sounds almost like a Fisher Price toy…..

What have I been up to lately? For one thing, I’ve just finished my second uni course of the year, and I’m waiting for the results. The course was on Creative and Professional Writing. I think I did pretty well on it, but we’ll have to see!

Meanwhile, I’m taking a semester off Uni in order to work on doing some art. I’m currently talking to an American company about designing some shirts for them, very much in the style of “Made” and “Level 27″‘s shirts. Should be good, I’m very pleased with the designs. If they accept them, I’ll post a link here.

I’m also working on a website for my art, a sort of online gallery. Since it’s the first web design I’ve ever attempted, it’s not that easy. But it should be finished soon, so you’ll all be able to see what I get up to!

Finally, what have I been watching/listening to/reading?

Well, I’ve been enjoying the StarGate movie, it’s very good. Kurt Russell (of Tequila Sunrise) plays one of the main characters. It’s a bit predictable, but still….that’s Hollywood! (sometimes, anyway)

I’m going to watch “The Life Aquatic” tonight, so I’ll post and say how it is.

As far as listening to goes, I’ve been giving The Transplants another spin, their new album “Haunted Cities”……The sound quality isn’t as good as on their debut eponymous album, but it has a good unpolished sound. I’ve also been playing A7X’s new album. It’s very unusual, has a really epic sound to it, choirs and so on.

I’ve been reading “Beu Sabreur” by PC Wren. He also wrote “Beu Geste” and “Beu Ideal”……all connected in small sneaky ways, with good plot twists. It’s very dramatic reading, but lots of fun if you like swordfights, toureg bandits and the foreign legion!

Anyway, bye for now, see you all another time.
I’ll put in another update soon!



St Anthony

We live in a parish that has a special devotion Mass to St Anthony of Padua, every Tuesday night.

We don’t often make this Mass, as Tuesdays are our busy days. Sometimes, however, we turn up, late for the Mass after drama, but in time for the devotional prayers. This is then, more often than not, a “dinner out” night!

Our parish is a Franciscan parish and St Anthony of Padua was a Franciscan. St Anthony was a good speaker and we have many of his sermons available today. Here is a little gem –

“Attribute to God every good that you have received. If you take credit for something that does not belong to you, you will be guilty of theft.”

And a website on St Anthony –


Refugees,Chinatown and more

Yesterday , being Saturday, we decided to go out all together. The top choice for the majority was the city – two sons were not keen on going out, however. I was not keen on staying home and I knew we’d be gone most of the day, so was uncertain about leaving the youngest two alone at home.

We compromised, we would go where they wanted if they gave us a chance to go where we wanted. And lunch out sweetened the pot!

Along the way to the city, we walked to Chinatown. I was able to recall my childhood memories of visiting the then obscure Chinatown area, and having how pastries from the Chinese bakery on a Sunday morning.

Chinatown has two lions and gables at the entrance now. Every second store is a restaurant or some form of eatery. We all tried some Emporer’s puffs – small batter pastries, with a sweet custard filling. And we discussed the history of Chinatown, the history of Chinese peoples in Australia, the communist government and the Chinese Revolution. I have recently read Mao’s Last Dancer and I think the “abridged edition” might make a good read aloud. Hopefully, all will be interested. Perhaps when we finish The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe?

Anny was distressed by the homeless people asking for money, and kept digging into my purse to find coins to give. He also noticed another child wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “Children don’t belong in detention centres.” He asked me about this slogan.

It is a topical issue here, since we have “detention cntres” where illegal refugees are kept, until their papers are checked out.

Anthony agreed with the t-shirt – he felt it would be terrible to be “locked up” as a child. We had a long discussion about the laws and refugees.

It is such a hard issue and I fear that Australia may be creating a generation who will hate the government ,who will have resentment….

J, who doesn’t like detention centres, still felt outrage at a child wearing a t-shirt with a political slogan. As the child was about four, J felt that the parent was using the child to make a political statement and thought this was wrong.

Our political discussions ended, we split up – G to the Maritime Museum for research; J and A to CD stores and bookshops; Anny,T and I to bookstores and toy stores. We met at a department store to find a work shirt for J and than caught up with G at the Chinese Gardens.

But our discusssions were not yet finished.

I decided to cook curry, rice, dahl, poppadums for a late dinner. T helped with cooking the poppadums. He wondered aloud what would happen if we tried to cook them in hot water instead of in hot oil. Our discussion centred on the properties of oil and water.

The number of topics we discuss in any one day is amazing. I am always surprised at the depth and breadth of our discussions. What Alan Thomas, a researcher into home education, calls “the informal, conversational style of learning.”


Hercule Poirot and Agatha Christie

I need to finish my computer time! But I wanted to share our Saturday night viewings on television.

We have become drawn to the Hercule Poirot mysteries on Foxtel.

There is something about the tangles and relationships that encourage us to think. Before long, we are making assumptions and deductions about possible suspects and motives.

“What was the significance of the sprained wrist?” J asked last night, after the opening scenes of this week’s show.

“All these Poirot mysteries revolve around romance – typical Agatha Christie” said A.

Can I put these thinking skills down for Maths in our log?


Tales and Movies

The last few days we have watched some interesting movies. Each, in their own way, lead to reading and books and book/author discussions.

We rented the DVD of The Snow Queen – one of those Hallmark productions. Just recently, on the Hallmark Channel, we had watched an interveiw with one of the producers of these Hallmark mini-series. He talked about storytelling, and television as a means of storytelling. he also mentioned that he was able to have well known actors perform in his productions for less money, simply because of the ability to extend the story beyond the time frame of the usual cinema movie. Interesting.

Watching The Snow Queen took us on a trail of fairy tales. A did a search – he searched for our copy of Hans Christian Anderson tales. We compared the story and the movie. We discussed several of Anderson’s tales – was there a theme of the importance of childhood? What was Anderson’s childhood like?

This inspired us to rent another Hallmark production – Alice in Wonderland. Again, with an all star cast. And, again, we talked about the difference between this version, the book by Lewis Carroll and the Disney version.

I found our copy for Anny. We relished the language – “Curiouser and curiouser.”

As we discussed Lewis Carroll, I shared my knowledge of the author. G (dh) and I and J and all said that found the book ‘weird” to read. And we wondered – why is it a classic?

I found this summary, analysis and some information on Carroll – from MonkeyNotes

I found the comment about the readers of the novel to be thought provoking. These notes suggest that, though the book was written for children, the novel has an appeal to adults. It appeals to the child in all of us. We remember the many paradoxes if life that we saw as a child.

Hmm, I am off to share this information with my sons.


Our Teen Group

Remember I said we had a teen group meet at our house? The aim was to help homeschooled teens meet each other and hang out more.

Well, we have had one meeting. At my house, as I said. The next meeting is to be next week.

And already there are hassles.

Basically, people don’t want to compromise. Some teens won’t come if we don’t do what they like. Some mothers don’t want younger siblings to come. Some do. Some mothers want the teens to do the plaaning. Some want mothers to plan. Some want a group plan. Some people like others and dislike others – I won’t come if they come.

We just want to compromise, allow for differences and hang out and have fun. Meet more people ( mums and teens).

It all seems so complicated sometimes.


We Go To Canberra

Do you remember those early readers, the ones with titles like”Peter and Susan Vist the Doctor”. Or, how about ‘We Go On A Holiday”? Well, this is our version, based on our one night and one day trip to Canberra, the capitol city.

“We drove to Canberra. We drove in our car. We got stuck in peak hour traffic. And then we drove very fast.

Canberra was sunny and clean. We visited the Questacon Science Centre. Anny’s Tamagotchie had a hard time waking up. When he ( Bob) woke up, he ate lots of snacks.

We visited the National Art Gallery. We saw one of Monet’s Waterlillies. We saw some of Andy Warhol’s pop art. We liked Blue Poles by Jackson Pollack.

We did a lot of walking in Canberra. It has nice parks. J and A visited the National Library . T and Anny and I toured Old Parliament House.

We all met N for lunch at new Parliament House. We had a quick tour. We liked Old Parliament House more. But this was Anny’s best part of the day.

We finished the day with shopping at the mall in the city centre. We drove home. No peak hour traffic this time.”

Anyway, Peter and Susan aside, it was a fun day. Well worth a visit ( maybe at Christmas?) and we enjoyed the many discussions about the art, the earthquake house at Questacon and the sale of Telstra ( questions brought up a Question Time in the House of Representatives).

And home again, today, we went to ice skating and gym with other homeschoolers. One mum, a mother of eleven, came with the five or six children she is homeschooling.

I know that a very large family can present challenges but, sometimes, you wonder if some people are just not cut out for the role of mother in a large family. This mother made many derogatory remarks about some of her children – who she said were not as “bright” or academic as others in her family. She spoke to her children in what T called a “mean voice.” She smacked them. She seemed tense and I felt sad. I think she needs a break. I think her children need a break.

Does it take a special sort of person to be a parent of a large, homeschooling family? Can one develop the “special” characteristics? How can we help others who seem burned out? And how can we help their children? I ponder this myself, as a mother of seven.


The library as a refuge

“I love going to the library. It’s peaceful and you can have a quiet rest.”

So said the youngest tonight, on our way to our weekly Tuesday night library visit.

It is true. Tuesdays are our busy days. Skateboard lessons, packed lunch and hang out time with other homeschoolers. The hour drive home. Two go to work at a Kumon centre. I help the other two fold papers for their delivery round. We pick up the Kumon workers and drive yet again – this time to drama class. While A and J are at drama, T, Anny and I go to the library.

To read and rest.

And sometimes to have coffee or Milo at the coffee shop at the library – appropriately called Chapters Cafe.

The reading is a respite before the close of drama class and the drive home and then the time to gather ingredients for dinner – for, by the time we arrive home, we are famished and tired.

Tongiht, our library respite included a book search for a book in a series – we have borrowed the skateboard one and now Anny desires the guide to mini basketabll. T searched in vain for more books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. He doesn’t seem to be a popular author right now, with anyone except T and J.

I sat in an apple green chair, comfy and quiet at the library, and read – Intuitive Eating ( like natural learning for food issues). And a new msystery author that I am sampling. Patricia Wentworth, in her Miss Silver mysteries. I also picked up a Robert Ludlum book that I thought G would like….


Chicken pox, birthdays and outings

We meant to post more regularly – then three boys came down with chicken pox. It’s a miserable sickness, makes you feel itchy and ugly and isolated…

As recovery approached, so did the youngest boy’s birthday – ten years old! He has been trying to convince us that being ten makes him a teenager – you know, two digits!

And we have had a week of outings or visits and a myriad of follow-up discussions.

Our oldest three sons were visiting from interstate and the eldest brought a friend for the weekend.

We went to the science museum and got immersed in Greek treasures, Byzantine art, looking at Angus Young’s guitar ( from ACDC) and life inside a space shuttle.

We played games of Star Wars Trivia and Hero Scape ( both birthday presents). And Avalanche on the Game Cube – talked angles and degrees here.

Walked around our neighbourhood and the nature reserve and lake and talked about the drought and the wattle.

Visited the Aquarium – I love the peacefulness of the underwater displays. I could stay down there forever. The boys enjoyed the sharks and the touch pool, and the gift shop.

Had our usual skateboarding group lesons with other homeschoolers. The teacher loves skateboarding and is good at it but seems to have no understanding of those who find it hard. One son and I had a long discussion about this, after an altercation and criticism from the instructor.

What makes a good teacher? Is it just being good at something? Or do you need something more – an empathy or understanding in addition to a passion? I must re-read some of John Holt as I remember that he had a number of comments to make about teaching and learning.

We started a teen group – the first meeting was at our house this week. Fifteen homeschooled teens, with their mothers and younger siblings turned up! What was interesting was the discrepancy of ideas for the group, amongst both teens and parents. Some want more activity oriented groups. Some want to hang out.

We are going to try a mix of both and see where it leads – friendships, things to do, interests.

And we finished off the week with Group learning – a co-op activity. I was the facilitator for the electricity stations. It’s very school-ish but has been a way for us to meet others in our new area. I must admit that the kids liked the lemon battery experiment and also enjoyed making a pizza box solar oven.

The two teens went to youth group and also iceskating with some friends from drama class.

And the rest of us went skateboard shopping. Oh, and the ten year old bought a Tamagotchie ( a virtual pet). So, today we are discussing friends for the pet, and marriage for the future!

I gues that this is what I love about homeschooling – we don’t fit school around life or life around school. Life is learning.